Annual ICC Assembly: Unite to protect 70 years of rights advances

Coalition for the ICC
Global civil society calls for show of support for victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and genocide at Assembly of States Parties 2016

The Hague/New York—The time is now for governments to unite to protect over 70 years of global human rights advances in the face of rising tides of racism, discrimination, violence and repression around the world, the Coalition for the ICC said today ahead of the annual meeting of the governing body of the world’s permanent International Criminal Court (ICC).

The 15th annual session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP)—the ICC’s governing body with a current membership of 124 states—takes place in The Hague from 16-24 November. The ASP session comes as the ICC, and the global human rights system put in place following the Second World War, are experiencing enormous challenges.

Accountability for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes is now firmly on the international agenda. Demands for justice, be it through national courts or through the  ICC, are increasing year by year. The adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals by the international community in 2015 was formal acknowledgement that justice and the rule of law are essential elements for achieving the UN Charter’s goals of peace, security, and human rights for all.

However, recent notifications by three of ICC member states of their intent to withdraw from the ICC Rome Statute next year, have underscored the urgent need for governments and the ASP to protect the international justice system and continue to build on decades of efforts to end global impunity.

Throughout the 15th ASP session, civil society will defend the integrity of the ICC founding treaty, the Rome Statute, and the unique access to justice it gives victims of atrocity crimes, reminding states that these crimes, wherever they are committed, are matters of serious international concern. Civil society underscores that victims will be the ultimate losers in any attempt to compromise the key principles of independence and equality of all before the law in the Rome Statute system.

“Civil society understands as well as governments that the application of justice remains uneven.  While only 63% of the world community have ratified the Rome Statute, the withdrawals and non-cooperation with arrests, and ‘selectivity’ by the UN Security Council all reflect the long struggle to end impunity. And, yes, even the ICC can improve its delivery of justice. Yet we remain convinced that the solution lies in extending the reach of justice, not reducing it because the ICC cannot investigate all who commit these worst crimes. Throughout our world, victims of unimaginable atrocities are crying out for justice. We cannot let these voices go unheard. History will not forget or forgive the world community if it looks the other way,” said William R. Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the ICC. “Never has the link been clearer between the mounting political opposition the ICC faces and the trends threatening global human rights and those who defend them. The time is now for governments to unify and make this system of international justice work for as many victims as possible. This is the single most effective way to increase the acceptance of the ICC around the world and bolster the effectiveness of the Rome Statute system.”

"South Africa and all governments should prioritize human rights, justice and accountability for egregious crimes. Unfortunately South Africa's 2015 failure to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir as required by domestic and international law at the time, and the recent announcement of the South Africa’s intention to abandon the ICC, show a disturbing propensity to place misguided political concerns above the needs of victims of crimes that shock the conscience of humanity," said Angela Mudukuti, international criminal justice lawyer with the Southern African Litigation Centre. “It also shows a tragic disregard for the constitutional democracy South Africans have fought so hard for. Let the government’s actions be guided by respect for the rule of law, constitutionally enshrined values, and the will to constructively support international criminal justice."

“Recent decisions of three African states to quit the ICC weakens global efforts to combat impunity for grave crimes. Leaving the Rome Statute system is not what victims desire, but rather serves personal interests of corrupt politicians who fear that one day they might be held accountable for crimes committed against their own people,” said Nika Jeiranashvili, human rights program panager at the Open Society Georgian Foundation. “The ICC is sometimes the only alternative to bring perpetrators to account, especially when domestic systems are unwilling or unable to do so. Thousands of victims in Georgia’s situation rely heavily on the recently opened investigation, as they have no hope to seek justice for crimes committed during the 2008 conflict at national or even at regional level.”

“We are concerned by issues of institutional accountability and the increasing departure by the ICC from the principles of gender and geographical representation of member states within the functioning and decision-making processes of the Court. Meaningful participation in the structure of the Court by competent nationals from every region is one of the important ways in which the Court grows and matures as a global and credible institution,” said Brigid Inder, Executive Director of Women’s Initiatives’ for Gender Justice.  “We are also very concerned to see that there are now fewer women in decision-making and leadership positions at the Court than just a few years ago.  We look to states parties to once again provide leadership on this issue and to take the opportunity to elect several talented female candidates to the bench during the judicial elections next year.”

“Fundamental fair trial rights and due process are cornerstones of the Rome Statute system. An ICC that conducts fair proceedings and upholds equality of arms reinforces both its legitimacy, and fair trial norms globally,” said Aurélie Roche-Mair, program director of the IBA ICC programme. “The IBA calls on States to uphold these values in very concrete ways, such as donating to the Trust Fund for Family Visits, ensuring the further development and funding of legal aid for indigent accused, and concluding additional voluntary agreements to support essential functions of the Court.  The IBA also encourages the ASP and individual States to support the equality of arms and enhance the voice of the legal profession before the ICC through constructive engagement with the newly established ICC Bar Association.”

“The Coalition urges governments to use the ASP session to reaffirm their strong support for the critical role that the ICC and the Rome Statute system have to play in the mission to ensure accountability for the most egregious crimes known to humankind,” Pace continued. “Support from the highest levels of government will not only revitalize commitment among other states attending, but also bolster confidence in the ability of the ICC to deliver justice, provide redress to victims who have no recourse to domestic justice, and rebuild resilient post-conflict societies.”

ICC and Africa

The intended withdrawals of three African states (Burundi, The Gambia, and South Africa) from the ICC has been a disappointing development for the ICC in 2016, and this issue is expected to figure prominently during this annual ASP session. The issue of head-of-state immunity is at the center of the withdrawal moves. It is more important than ever that the ASP session be used to give voice to victims searching for justice worldwide.

Civil society has been calling for victim perspectives and opinions to be prioritized above all else during the ASP session, as well as in the fight for global justice more generally. A growing number of African governments have spoken out against the recent decisions of Burundi, The Gambia, and South Africa. Civil society encourages all governments to reconsider this course of action and to stay in the system in order to achieve truly global international justice.

It takes a year for the decision to withdraw from the ICC to take effect, meaning the three African states that announced their withdrawal will still have a seat, and a vote, during the ASP session.  Civil society encourages all parties to engage with the ASP in open and frank discussion, without compromising the ICC prohibition on immunity for heads of states and high government officials. Throughout the 15th ASP session, civil society will defend the integrity of the Rome Statute and the unique access to justice it gives victims of atrocity crimes, reminding states that these will be the ultimate losers in any withdrawal.

Setting the record the straight

Anti-ICC rhetoric has questioned the fairness of the ICC process, painting the Court as a politically selective institution. Civil society has underscored the ICC prosecutor’s independence as well as legal limits on the ability to open investigations and cases; to the fact that most African ICC situations have been self-referred; and to the Georgia ICC investigation and array of preliminary examinations occurring outside of Africa.

One of the main achievements and pillars of the Rome Statute is the independence of the ICC prosecutor – from governments and from the United Nations Security Council. Decisions on whether to open investigations and cases are based on legal criteria laid out in the Rome Statute and other legal texts and policies governing the work of OTP.

Lopsided justice is in fact mainly due to the failure of states to accept ICC jurisdiction, to refer situations to the Court, and to undertake national prosecutions of grave crimes in the first place. A lack of state cooperation also hampers many ICC investigations and prosecutions. Civil society has consistently called on states to cooperate with the ICC to ensure justice is applied to state and non-state actors alike. Budgetary and resource constraints imposed by governments also impact the ICC prosecutor’s ability to open new investigations and cases.

Throughout 2016, Coalition members have highlighted such progress in areas such as the investigation and prosecution of sexual and gender-based crimes, accountability for rebel commanders, growing access of victims to ICC processes, and even impact on national peace processes. Furthermore, Investing in the ICC’s ability to conduct fair trials and uphold the human rights of defendants will promote the positive impact and credibility of the ICC around the world.


The ICC is the world’s first permanent international court to have jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Central to the Court’s mandate is the principle of complementarity, which holds that the Court will only intervene if national legal systems are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

As the most historic advance in the protection of global human rights, the innovative system established by the Rome Statute is designed to punish perpetrators, bring justice to victims and contribute to stable, peaceful societies. The Court has already made significant progress in holding those most responsible for atrocities to account. Victims are already receiving help to rebuild their lives. But global access to justice remains uneven, and many governments continue to deny the ICC jurisdiction where it is most needed.

There are currently ten active investigations before the ICC: the Central African Republic I & II; Democratic Republic of Congo; Darfur, Sudan; Kenya; Libya; Uganda; Côte d’Ivoire; Mali and Georgia. The ICC has publicly issued 33 arrest warrants and nine summonses to appear. Four trials are ongoing. There have been two convictions and one acquittal. Ten preliminary examinations are currently ongoing, including into situations in Afghanistan, Burundi, Colombia, Guinea, Palestine, Iraq/UK, Nigeria, Ukraine, Gabon and the Registered Vessels of Comors, Greece and Cambodia. The OTP has concluded preliminary examinations relating to Honduras, Venezuela, Palestine and the Republic of Korea, declining in each case to open an investigation.


The Coalition for the ICC is a network of 2,500 civil society organizations, small and big, in 150 countries fighting for global justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for over 20 years. We made international justice happen; now we’re making it work. Read our story.

Over 400 civil society delegates will participate at the ASP under the umbrella of the Coalition for the ICC. Please contact communications@coalitionfortheicc.org to arrange an interview or for background information.


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